Recently, I was put in touch with a photographer also wanting to highlight and support breastfeeding as a normal and natural part of life, regardless of where the mother might be.
Niki Whitfield-Hart is a mother of two and runs her own photographic business, Naturalis Oculus Photography. She recently entered three breastfeeding images in the Moran Portrait Prize. The brief for the competition was to capture a portrait that portrays contemporary Australian life.
I asked Niki why she chose to feature breastfeeding in her entries:
I chose recently to undertake this project for many reasons, but the foremost being to bring a greater visibility to breastfeeding, to demystify, and to engage my modest audience with a subject that I believe is one of the most important rites of passage a woman who bares children will undergo.
I believe that if my social circle was pro breastfeeding when I first had a child I would have succeeded in my breastfeeding goals.
If I can help to enlighten one mother, father, sister, brother, then perhaps that will be one less new mama who will not have to experience the same heartache I did.
I wish I had have seen beautiful images like mine as encouragement!
My breastfeeding journey began when I was pregnant age 23 with our first son, Kohen. I used to dream night after night about the birth and breastfeeding him. I was looking forward to feeding my son and giving him the best nutrition possible. I didn't have many breastfeeding role models amongst my circle of women and most were indifferent to how I fed my baby.
When the time came and I was induced, all I had dreamed and hoped for went down the drain in a snowball effect of interventions and a three day labour. My son was born ripped from my uterus with forceps, after a full episiotomy. I thereafter hemorrhaged, and lost consciousness. I spent the first three hours of my sons life under general anaesthesia whilst the staff attempted to save mine.
When I woke up my baby was in the cot beside me I picked him up and was in love!
It occurred to me about an hour later that he had not been fed yet so I asked the midwives to help, and away I went.... Painfully.....
I left hospital and went home to begin our new life together. Breastfeeding was becoming very difficult, I can remember calling my mum at about two in the morning on about day 6-7 bawling my eyes out bleeding asking what I should do. She said to give him a bottle of formula. So I did. So therein began the bottle feeding.... I ditched the formula and began to feed him exclusively expressed breastmilk. I would pump ever two hours 24 hours a day. My mum used to call me the 'milk machine'. I was CONSTANTLY attached to that darned Avent breast pump and steriliser!!!!
I exclusively fed EBM until Kohen was 6 months then we began solids, EBM, and eventually I lost my supply about 7 months.
After this experience when we decided to try for another child I was terrified. I had suffered undiagnosed PTS, and also post natal depression. Which I had recovered fairly well from.
I entered the second pregnancy, wanting a planned Caesar...
But whilst researching c-sections, I came across some information on traumatic birth.
My mindset began to change, and I began a journey into what would be my healing. A psychological and physiological rite of passage from "dysfunction and failure" to natural birth and mothering.
I began hypnobirthing lessons, and began to learn about a woman's body, from a different perspective than I had seen as a child. I had often heard of birth as disgusting and painful and in a very negative undertone, and of shame and embarrassment. But I was now learning that our bodies were incredible and beautiful and very capable of delivering babies without unnecessary interventions such as induction, and pain relief drugs.
I began to trust my body!!!
The birth of my second son Elijah, was all I had hoped it would be. I laboured until I felt his head fully drop low into my pelvis, we arrived at the hospital, the middies were advised to leave me be, I told them when I was ready to push and breathed him down and out of my body drug free two hours after we arrived at the hospital.
He attached to my breast and fed like a champ!!! And we enjoyed 16 full months of breastfeeding!! At which point he decided to swap to drinking from a cup instead of booby milk.
The difference between the two? Confidence, self acceptance and KNOWLEGDE!!!!
Now as I am, I have undergone that rite of passage, and for me all is good in the world of motherhood. My body has succeeded in performing its natural functions, uninhibited by pharmaceuticals in mine and my sons blood stream from birth. Free to feel confident in my choices, and not restrained by disapproval.
I believe that if I were blessed with another child that I need to learn more about myself through breastfeeding, and be brave and unflinching in my breastfeeding, as even with my second, I still was shy and fed well covered up (if at all) in public.
If I were to breast feed now I can happily say I would be out loud and proud!!!!!
I want to generate a more positive environment for new mums and alternative support for mums who can't get it from their own tribe awareness and the notion that breastfeeding is normal, and the more people see breastfeeding they will become desensitised and the culture of acceptance will reach another level in our local community!Niki's story highlights the journey many women travel to meet their breastfeeding goals. Images like these are often mistaken as being intended to make non-breastfeeding mothers feel guilty about their own feeding choices. In fact, they are a celebration of the individual's own experience and are intended to inspire other women to continue seeking support, to remind the community that breastfeeding is an achievable goal and that they can expect to see women breastfeed "loud and proud", as Niki words it, because after all that hard work, nobody has the right to tell them to cover up or hide away when they feed their babies.
Niki is planning more photo shoots with breastfeeding mothers and has seen great interest from women to take part in her project.:
I had initially wanted to focus on extended breastfeeding past 2-3 years but I was struggling to find models. In the end, I found three inspiring young women, from very different lifestyles, one with a 2yr old, one with a 15 month old and one with a 4 month old.
I photographed them at the Alfred Nicholas Gardens in Sherbrooke, it was a massive 5 hr shoot but it was absolutely magical! I also wanted to on a personal note, allow the mamas to see themselves from a different perspective. Its not very often that we appreciate ourselves enough, let along appreciate the natural beauty of what we are doing.Not everyone has been supportive of the project or the images:
I undertook this project to raise awareness and to demystify breastfeeding, but I was not prepared to come up against such instant negativity. It was quite naive of me really!!! I live in, I suppose you could say, a little bubble of positive like minded people, I am learning quickly to toughen up and prepare for people with differing opinions to me!
I have a photography Facebook page and I am using that page to share the images. I understand that this may be contrary to Facebook guidelines, but I believe these images need to be shared and I will do so regardless.
I have been contemplating the risk versus reward for approaching a so-called taboo on the face of my business, but I have decided that, my mission is for mamas and babies, and I am proud to stand tall for breastfeeding regardless. Sometimes people and businesses alike need to stick their neck out to make a difference!I am really happy to support Niki and her quest to bring images of breastfeeding women into the mainstream of society. Please visit her page Naturalis Oculus Photography for more information about her services and to show your support for her project.